Matthews moves to second overall at Tour

Australian cycling star Michael Matthews has overcome a frightening near-miss to close on the overall lead at the Tour Down Under as crash chaos hit stage one.

Dutch rider Robert Gesink was forced out of the race when his head hit the ground heavily in a crash, while several riders went down inside the last kilometre as they fought for position in Wednesday's high-speed finish.

Matthews nearly joined the casualties, forced wide and narrowly avoiding a parked car as the riders jostled about 2km from the finish.

He also dropped his chain in the incident, but fought back to finish third behind stage winner Phil Bauhaus (Bahrain Victorious) from Germany and Australian sprint ace Caleb Ewan (National Team).

That, combined with time bonuses earlier in the stage, meant Matthews improved from 10th to second overall.

He took eight seconds off race leader Alberto Betiol's advantage and now trails the Italian EF Education rider by only six seconds.

But Matthews (Jayco-AlUla) said he was shaken momentarily when he was forced off the road.

"That wasn't very fun. I just got pushed from my left onto the right side of the road and had to unfortunately jump off onto the dirt and find my way back on," Matthews said.

"A scary moment, I also dropped my chain.

""You sort of see your life flash before your eyes, but you can't really think too much about it.

"You know what your job is, it's to be there in the final."

Bauhaus also crashed early in the 149.9km stage that started and finished at Tanunda in the Barossa Valley, north of Adelaide, with conditions unusually mild for January in SA.

The tempo was easy for much of the stage and Matthews said that, combined with nerves among the riders, contributed to the crashes.

Ewan said the finish was "sketchy".

"There were a fair few close calls but I was able to get through without crashing. I still did a pretty good sprint, but I was too far back," he said.

"It was pretty scary in the finale, there were even cars parked along the side of the road in the last couple of kilometres.

"It was a little dangerous to be honest, but no-one crashed on that section."

Amid his dramas, Matthews again showed he is a strong contender for the overall title.

He lost valuable seconds in Tuesday night's prologue time trial when he had to ride in the wet.

Matthews finished second in the two intermediate sprints during Wednesday's stage, giving him crucial time bonuses, and he picked up more time by taking third on the stage.

"I'm just feeling really good on the bike and just really happy to be here in Australia with this team around me, just really good vibes," he said.

In the 22 editions of the tour, eight of them have been decided by three seconds or less, so bonus seconds are always vital.

Gesink (Jumbo-Visma) was the worst off when several riders crashed at 24km to go, while another crash involved a small group of riders about 50km from the finish.

New Zealand rider Patrick Bevin (Team DSM) pulled out of the tour on Wednesday after he crashed during Saturday's street race.